A carefully crafted and curated trivia night can fall apart in an instant if the host hasn’t planned for a tie at the end of the evening. All of the hard work and planning from the host or company – let alone the work done by the teams that are in a position to win – can all be for naught if the scores are even and the host has to hastily come up with a way to figure out what is going on. Know your rules ahead of time.
One option here is to simply split the prize. This can easily be done if the prize is cash or a bar tab or something of the sort, but gets more tricky if the winner takes home a trophy or some tangible goods like a t-shirt or pint glass. The only effective way to sort this – outside of a good, old fashioned pistol duel to the death – is to have some fun trivia tie-breakers up your sleeve to both prolong the fun and also bring the night to a fair resolution.
The question then becomes both what is a tie-breaker? and, what makes a good one?
In it’s simplest form a tie-breaker is a one question shot designed to break a tie and find a winner. There is a little more to it than that, however, as there are different types of bar trivia tie-breakers that would be more, or less, useful in certain situations and with certain playing groups. Knowing your audience is key, as is preparing ahead of time because the one time that you don’t have a tie-breaker prepared will undoubtedly be the one time that there is a four-way tie for first place at the end of your obscure 50 questions event.
Types of Tie Breaker Questions
Single Question and Answer
Before looking at the types of tie-breakers that you should use, it is equally as important to weed out the one type of question that should never be used as a tie-breaker.
While a question like “Who did Mayor West send back to the fifth dimension in Family Guy?” (Alex Trebek) is a perfectly reasonable question during the overall trivia experience, it makes for a terrible tie-breaker. It is way too specific for this role in your night and while it is an impressive TV fact for anyone to know, it is completely unfair to have such a closed ended question deciding the outcome after hours of trivia night fun.
Keeping things more open ended and more available for anyone to be able to have a shot at the answer is your single biggest key when devising a tie-breaker question.
Closest Answer Wins
This is – in my opinion – the single best way to decide a quiz night that has ended in a draw. The host reads out a single question and it has to be one with a number as the answer. This could be a quantity, it could be an amount, or it could be a date. The options are almost limitless in what could be asked, but the key is to make it something with a number so all teams can hazard a guess.
After asking the question – and allowing a small time for debate on a team – each must write down an answer and give it to the host. You can just go with the closest number in either direction winning or you can make it a little trickier/more tactical by employing “Price is Right” rules. This means that the closest number UNDER the total wins, but any answer that is OVER the total is automatically ruled out.
One thing to think about with this type of question is to make it so that the answer is something that a player can grasp numerically. An answer in the 10s of billions for example is a bad question, while sometimes a number as low as double-digits can make for a good question if done right. Also, with questions about dates try to make sure the answer is neither too obvious nor too obscure. This is an ideal type of question for sports trivia tie-breakers for example.
First to Fail Loses
Another type of question you could ask if you have a little more time is the first to fail style. In this type of tie-breaker a question is asked that has multiple answers and the players or teams take it in turns to answer until somone either gives a wrong answer, repeats a previous answer, or runs out of time to answer. Putting a 10 second clock on this type of question is a must, as is having a list of right answers in front of you that are fact checked that you can mark off as the correct answers are given.
This is a fun type of tie-breaker as the ante is upped with each correct answer given. Make sure you have a topic with at least a dozen answers – closer to two dozen is preferable – but no more than 20-25 as you will be there all night.
Family Feud Style
Most people will have watched Family Feud – or Family Fortunes in some other countries – to have some idea of how this tie-breaker will play out. Find a list somewhere online and make sure you note the source to ask the question. It could be something factual – like the highest-grossing movie of all time – or (and preferably) a survey of people’s opinions on a subject.
Then you ask the question and whichever team hits the answer that is highest on the list wins. If both teams get the same answer they look for the next answer and so on. This can be another fun one to keep the tension going – while laughing at the opinions of others – if it is done correctly. It is also a good source of Christmas trivia tie-breakers if you are looking for ideas for a holiday quiz.
List of Trivia Tie Breaker Questions
Remember to use a theme appropriate to the type of trivia night you have curated.
How many people survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic? (706)
How many miles is the equatorial circumference of the earth? (24,901)
To the nearest day, how many days in total did Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle reign as Edward VIII before he abdicated? (326)
How many times is the word ‘blood’ written in the Shakespeare play ‘Macbeth’? (42)
As the crow flies, how many miles is it from London to New York? (3,470)
According to IMDB, how long in minutes is the 1972 original release version of The Godfather? (175 minutes)
On what date did Michael Jackson die? (June 25th, 2009)
On what date was the first iPhone released for sale in the USA? (June 29, 2007)
How many Ford Model T cars were produced in 1923 – the record year for the production of the vehicle (2,011,125)
How many wins did undefeated heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano amass during his professional career? (49)
How many points did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – the NBA’s all-time leading scorer – score during his pro career? (38.387)
How long is the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in feet? (8,981)
How many rooms are in the White House? (135)
States with the first letter A-M
States with the first letter N-Z
Super Bowl MVPs
Oscar Winning Movies since 1995
Tom Hanks Films
Will Smith Films
Beatles Top 10 US Hits
Michael Jackson Top 10 US Hits
Top 25 Boys names of 2020
Top 25 girls names of 2020
And so on…
Having a bank of tie-breakers is as important as any other part of your trivia night (even Jeopardy! knows this to be true). These styles are the most popular for a reason so load up on closest answer wins and first to fail loses types of questions to end the night with a bang instead of a whimper should the situation arise.